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President’s Remarks – Employee Recognition Ceremony (May 2017)

Cathleen C. McColgin, Ph.D. 

May 16, 2017

Opening Remarks:

This has been a tremendous year, one that has been filled with both individual, as well as institutional accomplishments. When I reflect back over the past 11 months, I continue to be inspired and motivated by the dedication of our entire campus community to our students. Herkimer continues to be a leader on many fronts, and we’ll have the opportunity to hear more about these recognitions a bit later in the program.

In 1988, I began my career in higher education, and over the past 30 years, I cannot remember a time when higher education, as a whole, has been filled with the same degree of changes and uncertainty as we are experiencing now. Demographics inform us that the population of tradition-aged college students have continued to decrease since approximately 2011. We know that many colleges across the nation (both 2 and 4-year) have realized a decline in their enrollments since this this demographic shift. As a result, the competition for students has never been fiercer and institutions are taking extreme measures to recruit students. In the past several years we have witnessed private colleges drastically lowering their tuition rates and “mission creep” taking place among our SUNY sister institutions. And now there’s the Excelsior Scholarship program…. I believe we can all agree that providing access to a quality college education is a noble cause, and for that I applaud the Governor’s initiative. However, the unknown, is how this program will affect our enrollment. Again…..uncertain times.

I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to see how some of these changes will impact our institution. And while I don’t possess magical powers to be able to predict the future, I do believe in each and every one of you…Because, here’s what I do know.

  • The Retention rate of our Fall 2014 cohort of first-time, full-time degree & certificate seeking students was 61% compared to the median of our peer group of 56%
  • The Graduation rate of our Fall 2012 cohort of first-time, full-time degree & certificate seeking students was 36% - versus 26% of our peer group’s median.
  • And the Fall 2011 cohort’s Graduation rate of first-time, full-time degree & certificate seeking students was 29% - versus 26% of our peer group’s median.
  • This represents a 7% increase in our graduation rate in just one year….while our peer group’s rate remained the same.

Our students consistently share their experiences with us….and their testimonials are impressive. One student recently wrote: “Throughout my time here at Herkimer College so far, everything here has given me an excellent opportunity to pursue in my studies, and give me an overall idea on what I would like to accomplish in the future.” Another student stated: “Coming here to such an accepting and understanding faculty and staff have made the ride much more manageable….and I’m personally humbled and proud to have been called a Herkimer General going to sporting events as well as having Herkimer College my alma mater.”

At the April all-campus meeting I announced that Herkimer College was ranked eighth by Schools.com on their 2017 list of best community colleges in New York State. This particular ranking was based on metrics such as student-to-faculty ratio, distance education participation, cost of attendance, flexibility, graduation rates, retention rates and transfer rates. Their announcement stated, “Herkimer College has one of the lowest student-faculty ratios and some of the highest graduation and transfer rates of all New York community colleges.” This is an accomplishment that you all can and should be very proud of. It is a team effort. And so, congratulations to each and every one of you. Thank you.

Closing Remarks:

In a few days, we will gather to celebrate the accomplishments of our 445 students who have met their academic requirements for an associate degree. It is a day full of pride – not only for the graduates and their families and friends – but also for our campus community. All of us have been a part of the journey that our graduates traveled, and for that we can take great gratification and fulfilment in.

I remember the first commencement I attended at Herkimer and noticed during the ceremony that the College did not have a mace. Once I officially arrived on campus, I inquired a bit more about this, and learned that in fact, the College had never had once. Given that we are celebrating our 50th anniversary, I thought this omission should be addressed ….. For those of you who are not familiar with the historical significance of a ceremonial mace, please indulge me for a moment while I share its symbolism.

One of the oldest symbols of authority, the earliest ceremonial maces were actually practical weapons intended to protect the King’s person, borne by a royal bodyguard. Later, cities and parliaments adopted their use. Heads of medieval universities also followed suit, and today, a university’s mace is carried before the president or chancellor and platform-party dignitaries during commencement and inaugural and other academic ceremonial processions. The mace serves its vital role as the object vested with the power of the institution.

Herkimer College’s hand-made custom mace honors and represents the authority of the College. The College’s 49th Commencement on May 19, 2017 marks the first academic ceremony at which the mace will been carried. Herkimer College’s mace is crafted from American black cherry wood harvested from the campus property near the nature trail. Designed and crafted by George and Theresa Olsen of Richmondville, NY, the mace features the official college seal, cast in bronze, on each of the four sides. A cage-type finial showcases a beautiful Herkimer Diamond, a double-terminated quartz crystal found in Herkimer, New York, and donated by Gems Along the Mohawk.

The macebearer is traditionally selected from the faculty by his or her peers to lead the commencement procession. This year’s macebearer is Mr. William Pelz, professor and instructional designer for online learning. Mr. Pelz began was appointed to the faculty in 1968 and is the longest tenured faculty member in the history of Herkimer College. Congratulations, Bill!

Given that this is our last all-campus gathering, I would like to take this time to thank all of you for the work that you do. Every employee contributes to the success of this institution and the students we serve and I am proud to be a member of this campus community.

Thank you for a successful academic year and I hope you enjoy some relaxation and rejuvenation over the summer months. Please join everyone in the Cogar Gallery for our reception.

Thank you.

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